lessons from a college tour guide

Today in the coffee shop, I met a girl and her parents who were on their way to tour another college. She was certain that this was the one she’d go to – all her friends were going there. Her mom lightly rolled her eyes and said we’ll see after we keep looking – you never know!

I hope she listens.

If I had gone to the duh school – the one all my friends were going to… the one all my teachers wanted me to go to… I would have spent my college years absolutely miserable in a town of endless snow (actually that happened anyway… which is why I now live at the beach). I would have been surrounded by every single person from my high school. I would have continued to be the same old me I’d always been.

I might have saved money! I might have actually graduated on time. I might have gotten a crazy good job with an insane salary!

Could have – would have – should have – glad I didn’t! Truth is, you can’t spend your life wishing you’d done something different. It is what it is my friends. And honestly – it will all work out.

But, after giving University Tours for two years, where twice a day I would lead groups of high-schoolers around the school and tell them everything we had to offer, I learned that each kid was looking for something totally different. But each kid could have found what they were looking for, right there on our campus!

I learned a lot of things that I wish I, and those students, had thought about before going on college tours…

Colleges - The Salt Water Wife

  1. Relax. You don’t know yet if this is the one. If you did, you wouldn’t be touring. What if you don’t get in? What if you get wait-listed? What if this is one of 10 schools you were accepted to and you have to – GASP – choose? You want to compare this one to the others. So pay attention. Don’t be nervous. Ask questions!!! Enjoy your time there! Soak it all in! And chill. out.
  2. You don’t have to know your major already. Please, for the love of everything, don’t think that you HAVE to have your major nailed down on day one. Many kids I knew were undecided through their second third year, and I think they were better off for it. If you go in with a declared major, you’re going to start those classes right away; adding to the stress of an already full freshman course load and a major life adjustment. If you go in undecided, you’ll have those year or three to knock out all of your “gen-eds” – the things everyone has to take. Math. English. Language. Basketweaving. Who knows. But if you start with gen-eds, you’ll probably have a higher GPA, and a little bit more of a life. #askmehowIknow
  3. Y’all – those dorms aren’t castles. Yes, my dorm looked like a castle. But no – it wasn’t fancy. Most dorms are pint sized cinder block squares. It’s a tight box for one person, and SURPRISE there will be two of you in there. Don’t be disgusted. Do your time, live in the box. Live on campus freshman year. Live on campus all years actually. I moved off campus for my 3rd + 4th years. I had a GREAT roommate, who I’m still friends with today! I wouldn’t trade her for the world! BUT. I know myself. And looking back, if I had stayed in the dorms, it wouldn’t have been so easy to skip class. It would have been easier to spend time at the library. And it would have been easier to nail it down, and finish college on schedule. Sorry ma. You were right. #askmehowIknow
  4. Talk to students. I used to have friends intentionally interrupt me on tours. I would make each kid in my tour ask my friend a question. Sometimes they were highly education based questions. Sometimes they were about the nearest bar. (shakes head. #youretwelvestopit). But I was the tour guide. They thought I HAD to say nice things about the school. When they heard all these honest & awesome things from some student – it came across as more genuine. More spur of the moment honest. I think the parents liked it too. But seriously – go stand somewhere with a map and pretend you’re lost. Stop a student in the student center. Accidentally walk into a classroom (that actually happened once. It was hilarious and my professor turned it into an awesome time for the family visiting!)
  5. Eat in the dining halls. I used to invite all of my students to a meal with me after the tour! Parents ate it up (…see what I did there?). Kids were mostly just excited about food. #feedthegrowingchildren Should a dining hall make or break your college choice? If you’re looking at Virginia-Tech – yes it should. #askmehowIknow But eating in the dining hall gives you time to take a real look at the lives of these students. Are they studying on their lunch break? How long was the walk from the dorms? How long will it take to get to the next classes? Could I eat here every day for the next 6 years? You laugh…
  6. Get your tour guides contact info / friend them on Facebook. If you do end up choosing this school, it will be neat to stay in touch with your tour guide! They can connect you with clubs and organizations, plug you in to extracurricular activities, help you find study groups… My tour guide gave everyone her email and phone number, and a year later she got me plugged into one of the largest fundraising events in the world. She became a role model, and a friend. I used to have all of my students take out their smart phones and friend request me before they left. You wouldn’t believe how often I heard from them! Sometimes it was the great news of an acceptance letter! Sometimes it was questions to help them make their final decisions. Sometimes it was a regretful: declined. But it always fueled a relationship. I became someone they could come to with anything they ever needed. Parents love that.
  7. See the town. No, you don’t need to take days touring the entire city, or make-shift grocery shopping. But I would strongly advise you to take a look around. If you won’t have a car, see what you can find within a reasonable walk. Eat off campus. Go buy a t-shirt at a university store. Enjoy yourself! See what the life would be like! Will you need a job? Most places would be happy to talk to you about how you could apply with them when you move in!
  8. Remember: it’s OK to start small. It is absolutely awesome if you want to start at a junior college. It’s totally cool to stay in state! Money is real. It doesn’t grow on trees. If going to a cooler school means you’ll be in debt up to your eyeballs for the next thirty years; consider that a con! It doesn’t have to be a deciding factor. But it should be a game changer. Money is real. And you may not have them yet but so are car payments, rent, mortgages, groceries. That extra student loan payment each month will catch up to you. And yes, I know that you think you’ll have a job and will be able to afford it. But, things won’t always go your way, friend. You might find it to be a hard and lifelong commitment to pay those loans back! #askmehowIknow – You might also just not be ready to move so far from home. Or far from dad. Or from friends. Or from your support system. Personally, I wanted to get out and start over. But remember that it’s OK to stay close to home. It’s OK to go to a junior college. It’s OK to start part time. Whatever you choose, it’s OK.

Have something to add? Leave a comment below – I’d love to know where you’re touring!

Good luck! And GO HOKIES!

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